There are a lot of genres that have had their heyday. The text adventure game, the real-time strategy, and the military shooter are examples of an industry and culture’s zeitgeists spanning countless platforms and several decades. One of these genres is nearly as synonymous with personal computers as the RTS is: the point-and-click adventure game. Through the late 80s and early 90s, the genre saw such classic releases as Maniac Mansion in 1987, The Secret of Monkey Island in 1990, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis in 1992. While point-and-clicks would continue to see some high-profile releases through the 90s and early 2000s like Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars in 1996 and 2002’s Syberia, their presence in gaming culture would grow smaller and smaller with each high-budget first-person shooter after Halo bought that already-popular genre to the booming home console scene.
But the 2000s – particularly its later years – were also responsible for the birth of the modern indie game scene. Platforms like the Xbox 360 marketplace and the growth of Steam made internet distribution the norm and fostered a now-huge indie culture. It’s in this culture that genres, no matter how niche, can be given a new life with new audiences. Point-and-clicks are no stranger to this phenomenon, but they have recently been dealt a deep wound with the closure of their most prolific studio of the current decade.
This power vacuum in the point-and-click adventure genre is where Trüberbrook finds itself; a title that comes teasingly close to being fantastic. Set in 1960s Germany, you play as an American physicist named Tannhauser who’s won a lottery that he doesn’t remember entering. The prize? A trip to the quiet country town of Trüberbrook – a name that roughly translates to ‘Cloudy Brook’. When he arrives, he discovers that the sleepy town may be hiding greater secrets…
What’s not a secret is how damned gorgeous the game looks. Trüberbrook’s backgrounds are all miniature dioramas that have been digitised with photogrammetry, creating a visual style that could best be described as timeless. The character models, while 3D-animated, still closely resemble a caricature-style model straight out of a stop-motion Wes Anderson film. Cutscenes are fully animated in stop-motion, with only particle effects added in from a computer. The handcrafted scenery is a matter of great pride for the game’s developers, and it also matches the ‘handcrafted’ passion that’s seen throughout it.
The gorgeous diorama scenery is what drew me in
The visual flair isn’t alone in bringing Trüberbrook’s world to life. The sound design matches its visual counterpart with just as much energy and polish. Even if my German is far from fluent, the voice acting’s talent shone through in its emotional depth and snappy delivery. I preferred the German audio with English subtitles, but the English dialogue isn’t dragging its heels. You won’t lose anything from by choosing one over the other, so it’s simply a matter of preference. The score, inspired by film composers like Angelo Badalamenti, fits the game’s pseudo-goofy atmosphere perfectly. I’m still struggling to get some of its tracks out of my head, which drives me to beg for a physical release.
Please release this game’s soundtrack on vinyl.
Also like an Anderson flick, Trüberbrook’s writing is as sharp as it is easy to understand. If you forced me at gunpoint to make a comparison, I’d avoid an early grave by citing Humungus’ kid-friendly narrative simplicity with the semantic flair of a LucasArts game. The inspiration from the pulp science fiction of the era is obvious – one character is even enthralled by TV sci-fi serials. The humour is another case for my argument against filling me with lead, with Trüberbrook not being afraid to give a wink to the player for a cheeky laugh or two. It’s hardly the driest writing out there, but it’s not a wet blanket. It’s this irreverence to the fourth wall that helps Trüberbrook harken back to the point-and-click games of yore.
And what would a point-and-click adventure game be without its puzzles? Trüberbrook is no slouch when it comes to this area, but there was unfortunately still a lot to be desired in parts. One of the early puzzles, for example, required some meta-knowledge of history to complete, but the ‘obvious’ answer wasn’t the correct one. To find the correct answer, you’d have to know a very specific detail about it – information that’s only given once. If you forget or somehow missed the clue, you’ll be putting it together at random. This is an extreme example, of course, as the majority of the game’s puzzles range from fine to great but the ones that catch you with the details can cause a fatal roadblock.
Luckily, the miniatures don’t do all of the visual lifting
Thankfully, the inventory system isn’t one of these impediments to the game’s enjoyment. Clicking interactable objects will bring up a wheel with up to four potential options. One of these is using items. Items are contextualised to their intended objects, drastically reducing the amount of time spent trying ‘everything with everything’. That said, another disappointment with Trüberbrook is just how damn short it is. I completed my first run in just over five hours, and my second in three. That’s obviously a side effect of just how expensive the visual aspects would have been to create, and its contextual inventory system. These could be a fair trade-off or a deal-breaker, depending on what you’re looking for in Trüberbrook.
Luckily, I found just what I was looking for in developer Bildundtonfabrik’s love letter to surrealist fiction like Twin Peaks. A combination of phenomenal visuals, razor-sharp writing and an awesome soundtrack are (unfortunately) hindered by the game’s short length and mixed levels of puzzle polish. Then again, a short but sweet experience could be just what the point-and-click genre needs to get back onto its feet. In a world now devoid of high-profile point-and-click games, Trüberbrook is more than qualified to become a cult classic some time down the road. If Bildundtonfabrik can put out more games like this, they stand to become very popular right at this intersection.
Reviewed on Windows // Review code supplied by publisher